When considering the pillars of the fighting game genre, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are the names that immediately come to mind. Despite their ups and significant downs through the years, it’s hard to deny their appeal or place in history. The others can depend on the type of player you are. Some prefer Guilty Gear and Strive’s new mechanics; Virtua Fighter had that brief renaissance with the re-release of Virtua Fighter 5, while Killer Instinct remains enjoyable even after receiving its latest major update in years.
You can run down the list of other franchises, but if there’s one thing to agree on, there’s nothing quite like Tekken. Bandai Namco’s flagship fighting game series is known for pushing the envelope in visual presentation and game mechanics – refining and delivering 3D movement in a fighting game while emphasizing fast-paced and hard-hitting action.
The details and designs of its characters, the over-the-top dramatic storylines played straight and borderline plausible, and the gameplay that’s so easy to get into and yet difficult to master – Tekken embodies all this and more while delivering its own intangible X factor.
It may be hard to remember that feeling, especially after all these years, but Tekken 8 restores it, stokes it and does it in a confident, aggressive manner that stays with you. Long story short, it’s an excellent fighting game that stands proudly – and even rivals the likes – of Street Fighter 6. Not one without its faults, but a superb release, jam-packed with content and features, while reminding you why it’s so great.
Story Mode, aka The Dark Awakens, is where many will no doubt head to. Jin Kazama has awakened and is beelining to Kazuya Mishima to stop his madness. Kazuya wants to rewrite the rules of society and usher in a new world, which is somewhat surprising since he’s going from corporate strife and conflicts, especially when going against the Mishima Zaibatsu, to completely disregarding public opinion. Nevertheless, the stage is set for the next King of Iron Fist Tournament.
However, Tekken 8’s story isn’t so much about Kazuya as it is about Jin Kazama. After committing horrible acts to rid himself of his evil heritage, he seeks redemption and atonement. Without getting into spoilers, I appreciated how Jin’s atrocities aren’t simply glanced over and forgiven, much less by himself. There’s a definite guilt towards failing to save his mother, Jun, some self-loathing over his power, and the fear of potentially losing himself again. It’s a journey of understanding and acceptance; of moving on while understanding that he has friends to rely on.
"As for the presentation, it’s simply stunning, and the sheer fidelity of the characters and environments amid all the special effects and destruction is a sight to behold."
As well-executed as some of these themes are, the pacing in The Dark Awakens can be awkward. After the explosive opening, the first few chapters feel like they’re rushing the set-up to the tournament. Competitors like Ling Xiaoyu, Zafina and Claudio get a bit more screen time en route, but others like Paul Phoenix, Lili, Steve Fox, and more feel like they’ve just dropped in. Thankfully, things improve significantly past the first few chapters, setting up the stakes and central conflict but fleshing things out in a decent manner that allows almost everyone to have some great moments.
As for the presentation, it’s simply stunning, and the sheer fidelity of the characters and environments amid all the special effects and destruction is a sight to behold. You also appreciate the animations and facial expressions, reinforcing the sheer impact behind each blow. The transitions between cutscenes and gameplay also occur with little to no delays – the 30 FPS to 60 FPS jumps may irritate some, but I found it relatively painless.
As for the new fighters, Reina arguably gets the most focus, shrouding herself in mystery but still making an impact in every single scene. Azucena is charismatic, and though her coffee fanaticism can get one-note at times, there’s a subtle depth behind her smiling veneer that’s a little scary. I wish Victor had more development in the story, but he pulls off the suave yet stoic demeanor with little issue.
Regarding their move sets, I enjoyed Reina’s no-nonsense strikes and fast playstyle, but Azucena’s stance switching and faints were also fun to behold. Victor is incredibly sleek, capable of teleports and quick-draw katana attacks, and I can see him being a favorite for some. As far as returning fighters, I was happy to see Jun’s move set faithfully retained but spiced up with the new mechanics. I didn’t delve too deep into every character, but there’s a wealth of options available.
"Taking out various AI opponents grants name plates and other cosmetics – some even host Treasure Battles, allowing you to earn alternate outfits for some characters (with more than a few nods to older Tekken games)."
The Dark Awakens can be cleared in a few hours, though it can take longer on the higher difficulties. That’s where Character Episodes come in, and though I can’t say anything about them, just know that they fulfill a wish many Tekken fans have had for a long time.
The other story-focused content is Arcade Quest, which sees the player and their friends venturing to different in-game arcades throughout the regions to succeed in Tekken 8. Following a phone call from Max, players customize their in-game avatar and select a fighter to guide them through a faux competitive career. It evokes the atmosphere of grinding out games in the arcade, complete with the schlocky, mysterious individuals, that one person who thinks you’re easy enough to earn some easy points, and other such colorful strangers.
While there’s not much plot-wise, Arcade Quest offers an extensive tutorial in Tekken 8’s core gameplay mechanics. You’ll learn to execute Heat Smashes and Rage Arts, launch opponents, dip into combos, push back against pressure with the Power Crush, and more.
Completing various objectives and raising your rank (which is character-based) will allow for progressing to the next arcade location. They’re all unique in terms of looks and atmosphere but boil down to challenging opponents in matches and learning the mechanics. There are no extraneous mini-games or side tasks – simply grinding your rank while discovering the ins and outs of Tekken 8. The beloved Tekken Ball returns as a separate mode that you can dive into and remains as enjoyable as ever, so there is that.
"You can also download the Ghosts of other players online, and while I couldn’t try this out, there is an extensive selection to challenge in-game who put up a solid fight."
Advancing a fair bit in Arcade Quest is necessary to unlock Super Ghost Battle, a new feature where players can challenge AI opponents who are constantly learning. When playing against your Ghost, it will pick up on your habits and learn various tendencies, with self-improvement as the goal (which feeds back into your Ghost also changing things up). You can also download the Ghosts of other players online, and while I couldn’t try this out, there is an extensive selection to challenge in-game who put up a solid fight. It’s a nice departure from the usual assortment of AI combatants in other modes and really encourages you to adjust your strategies to win.
If Arcade Quest isn’t your thing, then regular Arcade Mode is also available and sees you running through a string of opponents with a character. Every battle grants some Fight Money to purchase cosmetics for your in-game avatar and fighters. Aside from the full-body outfits, each character more or less has access to the same selection of customization options, ranging from shoes, accessories and hairstyles to tops, masks and helmets.
It’s a bit tricky to adjust the different accessories the way you’d like, but if seeing Jin dressed in Hwoarang attire or Asuka in a detective coat with glasses is your thing, then there’s plenty on offer. Those who don’t care too much about outfits can also find plenty of concept art and high-quality models to unlock in the Gallery.
While Tekken 8 retains many of the fundamentals the series is known for, it also revamps several of them. Fighters have recoverable health now, restored on attacking your opponent, and the new Heat System opens up new combo actions while enabling all attacks to deal chip damage. It’s in line with the game’s new aggressive approach, but Heat isn’t quite an instant win button.
"I can see some people being mixed on Heat, especially when you encounter opponents who can set you up for extensive juggles and combo into a Heat Smash without the ability to defend."
The basic combo of launching an opponent and initiating a Heat Smash feels great. However, preserving and activating it against a turtling opponent to pile on the chip damage may also be ideal, especially since it’s usable once per round. Some attacks also serve as Heat Engagers, which activate Heat Mode (granting the full bar compared to Heat Smash) and allow for further attacks. Each character’s Heat Engager is different, and you can also Heat Dash after them to quickly close the gap and take advantage of other strings. This isn’t to say that Heat Smash is useless since its Power Crush properties can make it ideal in some situations.
I can see some people being mixed on Heat, especially when you encounter opponents who can set you up for extensive juggles and combo into a Heat Smash without the ability to defend. However, it’s also possible that Heat can fall by the wayside, as you focus on positioning, combo set-ups, grabs and overall reading your opponent instead of hitting that Heat Smash button and hoping it lands.
It’s a balance, and while I’m keen to see how it evolves, the Heat System and recoverable health are on point. Of course, Rage Arts is still a thing and offers a way to come back from the brink while looking flashy as heck, and your mileage may vary on how good or bad that is. Regardless, the controls are responsive, and performance is silky smooth throughout.
Another noteworthy feature is Special Style. Activated by pressing L1, it provides a simplified control layout and auto combos. Power Crush is X; Square is your character’s Specialty Move, etc. It allows for easily executing air combos, low attacks and more, and pressing a specific direction in conjunction with the buttons – or even alternating commands instead of mashing the same button – can offer extensive combos.
"When you dive into Tekken 8, it may not come across as revolutionary or ground-breaking for fighting games. Instead, it’s a homecoming in many ways…"
I didn’t prefer it because it doesn’t offer nearly as much freedom. However, you can see what each character is capable of at a glance, making it a solid tool for those getting into Tekken. I didn’t have a chance to indulge in online play and thus couldn’t test its effectiveness against real players (much less enjoy the new rollback netcode). If nothing else, those who want to breeze through the Story Mode without taking too much time learning different characters will probably like it.
Tekken as a series is known for being easy to get into and deceptively complex to master. Even when you experiment with the new characters and discover some solid bread-and-butter combos, a few minutes in training with Combo Challenges opens up a whole new world of possibilities. The options for customizing training sessions and viewing optimal techniques for each fighter are also great.
Combined with the revamped My Replays and Tips, it all feeds into one of the best parts of Tekken 8 – practising combos, trying to incorporate them into your gameplay, discovering new strategies and techniques and then going back to the drawing board to test it all out. The sheer range and depth of the roster means you’ll be busy for quite a while.
When you dive into Tekken 8, it may not come across as revolutionary or ground-breaking for fighting games. Instead, it’s a homecoming in many ways – a return to these excessive characters and conflicts, to the fast-paced gameplay that makes you want to engage in one more match, to the stellar visuals and energetic soundtrack. It’s the rare fighter with an exceptional degree of polish combined with love and care, the series’ best outing yet, and a grand comeback that new and old players should check out.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.
Excellent visuals, from the environmental destruction and character models to the sleek performance. The Dark Awakens is a solid continuation for the saga, while Arcade Quest offers a nice intro for new players. Lots of outfits and Gallery content to unlock. New characters are enjoyable while the Heat System adds an intriguing layer of strategy that compliments the core gameplay. Super Ghost Battle is great for battling against evolving AI opponents.
Pacing of Story Mode can be a little awkward at certain points, while Arcade Quest doesn't have too much by way of plot. Those who hate comeback mechanics may not enjoy the inclusion of Rage Arts. Some accessories don't fit so well.